If you doubt that Stephen Duckett is a sly old fox awaiting another chance to whack the Alberta government for whacking him, just read his recent letter to the Saint Albert Gazette.
Dr. Duckett, who was fired by the government last November and is now working as a health administration professor at the University of Alberta, told a medical conference in Toronto on May 5 that Conservative MLAs used to make it a practice to help their friends and patrons jump the queue for medical treatment.
Since then, it’s all hell all the time that’s been breaking loose out here on the Great Plains, with Premier Ed Stelmach, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky and now former health minister Ron Liepert comedically trying without much success to get everyone to stop paying attention and go back to sleep.
Every time it looks as if this Tory braintrust may have succeeded, Dr. Duckett wakes us all up again with another swift jab to the Conservative gut, or the chin.
Dr. Duckett took his latest swift little shot at Mr. Zwozdesky in last Saturday’s edition of the St. Albert bi-weekly with a crisply worded explanation of why the health minister’s statement that Dr. Duckett had never told him about the line jumping doesn’t necessarily justify the conclusion that Dr. Duckett never raised the issue with anyone.
“In your story ‘Queue jumping allegations continue to boil’ … Minister Gene Zwozdesky is quoted as saying that I did not raise these queue issues with him and goes on to say, ‘I think you can read between these lines yourself,’” Dr. Duckett wrote, pointedly signing himself, “former president and CEO, Alberta Health Services.” (Emphasis added.)
However, the Australian PhD economist added, “There is little need to read between any lines as the explanation is simple and obvious.
“When I first came across these issues Minister Zwozdesky was not health minister and so there is no reason why I should have discussed them with him. I thought I had fixed the problem with my memo of June 2009 by making clear that these practices were to end. So when Zwozdesky became minister in 2010 this issue was no longer current and so I saw no reason to raise it with him then either.”
Ergo: it happened, and then it got fixed, no thanks to you Tories.
Slap! This was hardly a knockout punch from Alberta’s former No. 1 health care bureaucrat before he was felled by misuse of a raisin-oatmeal cookie, but enough of these little smacks can wear a minister down if he has to go 12 rounds with the guy. And it surely sounds as if Dr. Duckett intends to go the full 12 rounds – who wouldn’t bet that similar responses appear from time to time in other tiny community papers throughout Alberta?
Well, maybe that St. Albert letter was what prompted the government’s latest response to Dr. Duckett, or maybe it was some other painful jab in some other part of the governmental anatomy, but whatever it was, this time it was Ron Liepert himself who stepped into the ring.
Now, Mr. Liepert, the man who hired Dr. Duckett and who must now wish he’d never heard his name, has a reputation of the Raging Bull of the Stelmach cabinet. In his latest pronouncement, alas, he comes across more as a stumblebum political palooka.
“I think there was an overstating of this sort (that) somehow MLAs had some priority access and that’s certainly nothing that I ever saw,” Mr. Liepert was quoted as saying in the Edmonton Journal yesterday. If Conservative MLAs did anything, he added, they were just trying to help their constituents in “navigating the system.”
So that’s what those “designated go-to guys for discreet waiting-list adjustments on request from MLAs” that Dr. Duckett mentioned back on May 5 were for!
Read between those lines, of course, and Mr. Liepert seems to be implying that something may well have been going on – just that it’s no big deal.
Mr. Zwozdesky did a little better – spreading the blame a bit by implying that opposition MLAs asked for favours too, and explaining the notorious go-to guys away as mere government relations officers.
“You just immediately refer it on to the health services folks so you stay out of it yourself because everybody knows that MLAs have absolutely no power and no authority in this area,” Mr. Zwozdesky told the Journal. “Only doctors and other medically trained people can impact wait lists.”
That’s the problem in Alberta today, of course. Everybody doesn’t know that government MLAs have no power when it comes to medical waiting lists. That’s why we need a judicial inquiry, no matter what excuses the remaining members of the Stelmach cabinet trot out.
This post also appears on rabble.ca.